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Thomas Pynchon and the Development of Conspiracy Readings: From Puritan Paranoid to Postmodern Po-face.

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This paper describes the paranoid reading method which defines both the strategies of Puritans, present day conspiracy theorists and, arguably, some readers of Thomas Pynchon. According to scholars like Sacvan Bercovitch, Puritanism furthered individual, attentive and logical exegesis, of both the Good Book and external signs as proof of God’s hidden design, to achieve “intelligibility of divine providence within the riot of history” (Perry Miller, The American Puritans, 192). Such intent finds parallels in this century where cultural and political conspiracy theory entered the mainstream. The chaos of a Trump presidency, for instance, spawned paranoid “readers” like QAnon, a conspiracy network attributing concealed coherence to his actions. According to Pynchon, “anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, [is] a condition not many of us can bear for long” (Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973) and the apparent psychological need to establish even a malevolent design in a chaotic world now frequently explains the quasi-metaphysical logic of conspiracy theory. Methods employing close readings of texts and context for signs of meaning and plot can support both religion, literary analysis and conspiracy theorizing, if differently applied, and critics have found evidence of all three in Pynchon, whose “encyclopedic” narrative strategies encourage paranoid reading strategies. This paper lays out these positions and discusses how Pynchon’s involvement with conspiracy narration has changed in recent years as conspiracy thinking has gained new prominence in the American mind.

Original languageEnglish
Publication year9 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2019
EventNordic Association of English Studies (NAES) - Aarhus - Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 8 May 201910 May 2019


ConferenceNordic Association of English Studies (NAES) - Aarhus

    Research areas

  • Thomas Pynchon, Donald Trump, conspiracy theory, paranoia, Reading cultures, literary criticism, Puritanism

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